Happy Halloween, courtesy of Marie Antoinette’s Head

I came across this image of an impression of Marie Antoinette’s head, made by Madame Tussaud shortly after the queen’s execution. It’s eerie and a bit gruesome – perfect for Halloween.

During the height of the French Revolution, Madame Tussaud’s services were in high demand. Known for her unique talent for creating realistic wax figures, she was often commissioned to depict notable figures of the French Revolution. To accurately model the facial features of the person, she sometimes made a ‘death mask’ of the person to work from. She was often obliged to make wax figures of notable people who’d been executed by the guillotine, which is why she had to use death masks instead of modeling from life. Marie Antoinette wasn’t the only one to undergo the process of having a death mask taken; apparently Madame Tussaud also arrived on the scene of Marat’s murder, to make his death mask, so quickly that his assassin Charlotte Corday was still being processed by law enforcement.

Also gruesomely appropriate for Halloween

Since we’re on the subject of Madame Tussaud, I’d be remiss if I didn’t recommend you read the novel of the same name by Michelle Moran, if you haven’t already. It’s a tense and sweeping depiction of a fascinating woman and the turbulence of the French Revolution. And if you’re looking for a bit more on doomed queen Marie Antoinette and the escalation of the revolution, please don’t forget my own The Wardrobe Mistress!

Happy Halloween!

Feuding with Marie Antoinette – guest post

I examined a couple of Marie Antoinette’s most prominent feuds, and you can find the details – and determine if they were justified or not – over at Jenny Q’s wonderful blog, “Let Them Read Books.” Definitely check out her site – she has some exciting book giveaways running right now!

I met Jenny at the Historical Novel Society Conference in June, and even though she was extremely busy helping to make sure it was the best conference ever (and it was), she found time to chat with me and is one of the nicest people you could ever meet. I’m so excited to have a guest post with her today.

Speaking of posts elsewhere on the internet, I also have an interview with Carrie Pestritto, and an essay about my inspiration behind The Wardrobe Mistress over on Women Writers, Women’s Books.

Available at:

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Macmillan
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Chapters/Indigo
iBooks

The Myth of ‘Let Them Eat Cake’

For many people, the first thing that jumps to mind upon hearing Marie Antoinette’s name is the phrase ‘Let them eat cake.’ This quotation is frequently ascribed to France’s doomed queen, given as her careless response to the famine affecting the people as the revolution began.

‘Let them eat cake’ is evidently a catchy phrase, because it’s been recorded in use multiple times, dating back to sometime earlier than 1737. It was first ascribed to a Spanish princess, Marie Thérèse, who was the wife of French king Louis XIV, who reigned several decades prior to the French revolution. Marie Thérèse’s apparent use of the phrase was slightly different, being more in reference to crusts of bread left in the pan.

In 1751, four years before Marie Antoinette was even born, the phrase was again attributed Madame Sophie of France and other times, to Madame Victoire of France. Sophie and Victoire were both great aunts of Marie Antoinette’s husband, Louis XVI, and high-ranking within the royal family.

But the most telling proof of its origin prior to Marie Antoinette’s reign as queen is that it can be found in Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions, which was a popular work during the queen’s lifetime. Completed in 1769 but not published until about twenty years later, the work contains the line, “At length I recollected the thoughtless saying of a great princess, who, on being informed that the country people had no bread, replied, “Then let them eat cake!”’ Sometimes it is translated as pastry, but the sentiment remains the same – an utterly naïve royal lady betrays a lack of comprehension and sympathy by making such a frivolous remark.

It must have been particularly frustrating for Marie Antoinette to hear slander that attributed the quotation to her. After all, she would have been familiar with Rousseau’s work since it was very popular at the time, and one of her closest ladies in waiting, Madame Campan, often read aloud to her. I had some fun writing this scene in The Wardrobe Mistress.

It’s often thought that the cake of the quotation refers to brioche, a rich type of bread, which could account for the alternate translation to pastry. The texture of brioche is a cross between pastry and bread, with an even crumb and a dairy-sweet flavour – due to the high butter content. The richest brioche (which the upper classes would have eaten) can contain up to 80% butter! It’s best baked in a metal tin, to create a delicate, hairline thin crust. Less decadent brioche is closer to 20% butter, and ranges in the middle can be baked as well.

It’s especially delicious with strawberry jam, as I can personally attest.

Since Marie Antoinette undoubtedly would have eaten brioche sometimes, even if she never suggested it as an alternative to plain bread for the peasants, I wanted to try baking it. My mom and I made it together, so now I can not only recommend brioche as tasty, if rich, but it was also a fun activity to do together. I couldn’t help but think of Marie Antoinette while I ate it, enjoying the connection to history.



The Wardrobe Mistress, a novel of one of Marie Antoinette’s wardrobe women who casually spies on the queen during the French Revolution and finds herself torn between her loyalty to the queen and her sympathy for the revolution, is available now.

Buy links:
Amazon | B&N | IndieBound | BAM | Macmillan

 

 

Everything I Learned about Marie Antoinette’s Perfume

In my research for The Wardrobe Mistress, I learned a lot about the intimate details of Marie Antoinette’s life, from clothing to perfume. For instance, I discovered she changed her outfit several times a day for various court functions, and she kept a book full of fabric swatches from which she’d select which garments she wanted to wear each day by putting pins in the appropriate swatches. In my novel, all the undertirewomen dream of getting to look through the book, stroking the soft chiné fabrics, and I wished I could do that too. I also loved imagining the fragrance of flowers pervading the Queen’s chambers, which were often so heaped with fresh flowers that a person could be scented just by spending time in the room.

Flowers were one of Marie Antoinette’s most consistent interests, a passion which combined her love for the pastoral luxury of her favourite retreat, Petit Trianon, and her enjoyment of perfume. She had her own perfumer, an innovative expert named Jean-Louis Fargeon. Upon Marie Antoinette’s request, he created a signature scent for her called Parfum du Trianon, meant to capture the fresh scent of the location so that she could carry its essence with her wherever she went.

The picturesque mill in the queen’s hamlet of Petit Trianon (Photo credit By Starus – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15697249)

In general, Marie Antoinette loved concentrated perfumes, especially those with hints of rose, violet, jasmine, and jonquil. For her baths, she preferred more herbal scents as well as amber and bergamot. Unsurprisingly, her baths were also examples of queenly luxury, since the water was lightly scented and Fargeon also created sachets filled with blanched sweet almonds, bran (for exfoliation) and perfumed for her to use.

Sachets for use outside of the bath were also popular, usually made of taffeta or silk, and filled with a pot-pourri of aromatic plants. The Queen liked to present these sachets to her friends as gifts. Since she also took care to ensure the scent matched the personality of the recipient, they would have been quite a prestigious present to receive. For the liquid perfumes, Marie Antoinette kept them in a special cabinet full of gleaming coloured glass bottles with silver stoppers. She loved her perfumes so much that she placed an unusually large order with Fargeon before she and Louis XVI undertook their attempted flight to escape the Revolution (and we caught in Varennes). She also tried to pack most of them, in spite of having limited space for belongings. 

Marie Antoinette also liked to wear gloves in shades of white or pearl grey, and they weren’t only decorative accessories for one of her elegant gowns. Fargeon was skilled in the traditional Montpellier specialty of making perfumed gloves with flowers, and he also took pride in treating the gloves so they had restorative qualities for the skin. One of his pairs of riding gloves would soothe the Queen’s hands while she dashed through the countryside on a graceful horse. The gloves were perfumed with simple flowers such as hyacinths, violets, red carnations, and jonquilles á la reine, which had to be picked an hour after dawn or before dusk for the purest scent. Marie Antoinette typically ordered about eighteen pairs of these gloves per month, which would seem to suggest she likely only wore them once.

At the height of the revolution, when the royal family were imprisoned in the Tower, Fargeon sent a phial of parfum du Trianon to Marie Antoinette to comfort her. She also used his eau de vie de lavande to soothe her anxiety. Of course, Fargeon was not paid for these items, since Marie Antoinette didn’t have funds at her disposal in prison and the guards had no interest in paying him on her behalf. It was a kindness that must have provided some small consolation in her final days. 

For anyone interested in more details of historic perfume, and Fargeon’s methods in particular, I highly recommend A Scented Palace: The Secret History of Marie Antoinette’s Perfumer by Elisabeth de Feydeau.

 

 


The Wardrobe Mistress, a novel of one of Marie Antoinette’s wardrobe women who casually spies on the queen during the French Revolution and finds herself torn between her loyalty to the queen and her sympathy for the revolution, is available now.

Order links:
Amazon | B&N | IndieBound | BAM | Macmillan

 

Six Surprising Facts about Marie Antoinette

Marie Antoinette is probably best known for her death, as a queen shockingly executed by guillotine at the height of the French revolution. But there’s lots more to know about her interesting and sometimes scandalous life. I’ve got six surprising facts about Marie Antoinette for you, as part of my countdown to The Wardrobe Mistress publication day on August 15th.

1). She came from a huge family

The daughter of Empress Maria-Theresa of Austria and the Holy Roman Emperor Francis I, Marie Antoinette had fifteen (!) siblings. Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna, as she was called before becoming a French dauphine, was the second youngest. All of them had royal titles.

2.) She had many hobbies

Since her reputation for fashion and trendsetting has lasted hundreds of years, this one might be surprising. Marie Antoinette’s interests ranged from riding – including sleigh rides, which she had fond memories of from her childhood in Austria – to gardening, interior decoration, the theatre, and music.

She decorated the royal property of Saint-Cloud in her favourite colours, also choosing the furniture with care. She preferred light colours like pale blue and green, as well as lavender grey. The Great Bathroom at Versailles was painted this colour, and decorated with sea motifs of shells and corals. She disliked orange and never wore it.

At her favourite retreat of Petit Trianon, she envisioned a romantic garden filled with trees, a paradise where one could wander in peace. She also enjoyed the jardin Anglais, a landscaped style of gardening the depicted an idealized view of nature with groves of trees.

3.) Before her marriage, she had her teeth straightened

Historical dentistry doesn’t sound appealing to anyone, but poor Maria Antonia had her teeth straightened at a young age. In fact, when she was ten years old, negotiations began for her marriage to the dauphin of France, and it was deemed important that she become more physically attractive to the French. This included a new hairstyle to play down her forehead (considered too high) and straightening her teeth. The early form of braces was a horseshoe-shaped device made of metal. Gold wire was threaded through the evenly spaced holes – much like modern braces, but a little more rustic and made of gold! It was called “Fauchard’s Bandeau”, named after Pierre Fouchard, who was significant to the development of modern dentistry and orthodontics.

As a new technology, and without the aid of any modern painkillers, the braces were likely quite painful. However, Marie Antoinette’s smile was considered quite charming and pretty, so it seems to have been a successful ordeal.

4.) She contributed to philanthropic efforts

Aside from being generous with her friends (which she was – sometimes she even had signature perfumes made for them as gifts), Marie Antoinette liked to help others wherever she could. She established a home for unwed mothers, and often made visits to poor families to distribute food and money. Once, before she was queen, her carriage accidentally ran over a wine grower. Marie Antoinette rushed out of the carriage to assist the wounded man, and paid for his family’s expenses for the next year while he recovered from a broken limb.

Two years before the start of the revolution, in 1787, she also provided grain for struggling families and downgraded the quality of grain for the royal family so that there was more to share.

5.) She was only nineteen years old when she became Queen of France

She had been dauphine of France for several years, but when Louis XV (the predecessor of Marie Antoinette’s husband, Louis XVI), passed away on May 10, 1774, she became queen. The late king had been ill for some time, and when the candle in his window was extinguished to show that he had succumbed to his sickness, all the courtiers who had been hovering outside his rooms stampeded toward Marie Antoinette and Louis, determined to be the first to pay compliments to the new rulers. Apparently the crash of their footsteps made a sound like thunder.

Together, Marie Antoinette and Louis knelt and prayed for their future, with the words “Dear God, guide and protect us. We are too young to reign.”

6.) She cared about the revolution and tried to help

In contrast to her husband, Louis XVI, who often remained indecisive, Marie Antoinette took action to address the issues spurring the revolution, and to protect the royal family. She met with ministers and ambassadors, and corresponded with other sovereigns. Her increased involvement in politics led the king to rely on her advice, and he occasionally baffled his royal ministers by leaving the room to consult with her if she was not present at the meeting. When France’s popular finance minister, Jacques Necker, was dismissed by Louis, she sought to appease the people’s outrage and persuaded Louis to reinstate him, even though she and Necker had not always agreed and were sometimes enemies.

It is worth noting, however, that in her youth, Marie Antoinette remained mostly indifferent to political schemes. She became more involved as political tensions rocketed dangerously high, at which time it was possibly too late.

 

I hope I’ve passed along some extra facts about Marie Antoinette besides that she said ‘let them eat cake’ – or did she? More details about the life of the scandalous French queen to come!

 


The Wardrobe Mistress, a novel of one of Marie Antoinette’s wardrobe women who casually spies on the queen during the French Revolution and finds herself torn between her loyalty to the queen and her sympathy for the revolution, is available now.

Order links:
Amazon | B&N | IndieBound | BAM | Macmillan

 

Publication Day Approaches!

It feels like I’ve been talking about and excitedly anticipating the publication date for The Wardrobe Mistress forever. And it has been a year! But now the big day is actually within reach, and I will freely admit that I’m pretty much bouncing off the walls with exhilaration. I received my first copy in the mail and I can hardly describe the thrill of holding a real copy of a book I wrote! A bit surreal, but wonderful.

To share my excitement, I’ll be updating my blog more often in the next couple of weeks, counting down to pub day with lots of interesting facts about Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution. A few of them are guest posts elsewhere, so I’ll post the links on my own page as well.

Of course, I’ve written about Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution a few times here before, including her beloved dogs, that time she made a really bad decision, how researching her gave me luxurious tastes in hot chocolate, everything I learned about the guillotine, and how loyalty became a theme in The Wardrobe Mistress.

I’m also sharing pictures of historical fashion items, similar to what the characters might have worn, on my Instagram page.

Last thing, the prequel short story The Diamond Deception is still available as a freebie for newsletter subscribers. A copy gets emailed as part of the confirmation of sign up. I’ll close off this post with a snippet from the story.


The queen of France tosses the sheaf of papers aside, paying no attention as one of the pages drifts to the floor like a crisp autumn leaf.

“Henriette, you’ve made excellent time. I didn’t expect you to arrive until this evening.”

“With good roads and a fast coach, the road from Crespy is not so long.”

When she smiles, happiness sparking in her blue-grey eyes, I feel my own mouth curling in response. Her charm can be irresistible, and I’m glad she summoned me back from the country estate. The last few days especially, I’d felt quite ready to return to court and my position as the first lady-in-waiting to the queen. Since she’s currently at her beloved retreat of Petit Trianon, the pastoral village within the grounds of Versailles, instead of the grand palace itself, I can ease back into the structure of court life.

“And Monsieur Campan and the family are well?” Marie Antoinette rises from her seat on the sofa. The toes of her violet shoes peek out from under the white muslin fall of her skirt as she approaches.

“Yes, thank you. My in-laws are preparing for the grape harvest.” It’s kind of her to ask, especially since she always remembers names and details. The queen meets so many people that I’m proud she remembers my family. I suppose after the fifteen years I’ve spent at her side, serving as one of her femmes de chambre, she must feel almost as if she knows them.

As we chat, one of the queen’s other attendants quietly retrieves the scattered piece of paper, stacking it back into the pile.

“I was just rehearsing,” the queen says. “I think I wrote you that I’m to play Rosine? Le Barbier de Seville is quite an amusing play.” She reaches for the script, casting a brief smile to the helpful lady who straightened the papers. “I’d like to rehearse now, if that suits you. No one else reads as well as you, Henriette.”

“Of course, let’s begin.” Although it’s customary between us that I often read aloud to her, while she’s sewing or in the bath, the praise still settles over me like a beam of sunshine. I’m glad to see she is in good spirits; I’d wondered a little about that strange visit from Monsieur Boehmer, while I was away, but the issue must have been resolved.

“Leave us, please.” She dismisses the other ladies, fanning the script in the direction of the sideboard. “We had tea earlier. I think there’s some left, or lemonade, if you’re thirsty.”

I cross to the sideboard, relaxing under the more casual atmosphere of Petit Trianon. We’d rarely sit at such ease at Versailles, where there’s always an audience or a person wanting an appointment. I pour for myself, and also for her since I’m fairly certain she’ll want to moisten her throat after reading Rosine’s lines for an hour.

She takes the cup with a graceful dip of her head, sweeping her skirt aside to sit back on the sofa. There’s a rose leaf caught in the ribbon of the pale blue sash tied around her waist, and though I’m sure she’s unaware, it fits with the rustic, carefree charm of Petit Trianon. Marie Antoinette is always happier here, briefly escaping from the rigorous ceremony of daily life at Versailles. She can truly be herself here, enjoying flowers and fresh air and harmless amusements like plays.

As we rehearse, and I read for the other characters, the queen finds more strength in her delivery of Rosine’s lines. After an hour, she smooths the script pages against her lap, and sits back with a pleased smile.

“I think that will do. The performance is tomorrow. Just friends, of course, both acting and as audience members. I do enjoy these amusements at Petit Trianon.” Her smile fades, and after she finishes her lemonade, she clears her throat. “Henriette, I must ask you why you sent that dreadful jeweler, Boehmer, to me. He called unexpectedly, giving your name, but I would not see him. I have nothing to say to him.”

Dread clutches at me.  I certainly had not sent Monsieur Boehmer to Her Majesty. In fact, I’d told him the opposite.

 

 

The Pets of Queens

The lives of queens through history are often so overwhelmed by politics and court ritual that it can be difficult to sense their personalities as individuals. Finding the small details that provide a spark of illumination into a queen’s hobbies and penchants are thrilling, especially for a historical author. During my research for my forthcoming novel, The Wardrobe Mistress, I remember the surge of excitement I felt when I discovered that Marie Antoinette preferred purple and disliked orange, that she loved children to the extent that she’d often call out to them in a crowd, that she liked dogs and some of hers had been gifts from friends. These are all things that brought her to life for me, showed me why my protagonist, Giselle, who worked for the queen, would be sympathetic to her.

In her fondness for pets, Marie Antoinette was not alone. Many queens enjoyed the company of their pets, especially dogs, which many modern people can relate to as well. Historical figures weren’t always so different from us as we think. From dogs to parrots, here are some famous queens through history and their beloved pets.

From the 2006 film, Kirsten Dunst as Marie Antoinette with Mops.

Marie Antoinette had a pug named Mops, whom she brought with her to France from Austria. Nervous to be leaving her home and going to a foreign court, she clung to Mops and was said to be extremely fond of him. Sadly, he had to be sent back to Austria with most of her other belongings, in order for her to start fresh as a new French dauphine at Versailles. Thankfully, she was later able to send for him, and princess and pug were reunited.

She also received a dog as a gift from Count Axel von Fersen, the courtier often believed to be her lover. While it’s difficult to find absolute proof of this, it’s undeniable that the two were quite close. Little is known now about this dog, but it’s was likely a Swedish dog, similar to Fersen’s own, which was called Odin. Marie Antoinette also had a red and white spaniel named Mignon, a gift from her dearest friend, the Princesse de Lamballe. The spaniel was called Thisbée originally, but Marie Antoinette’s affectionate nickname of Mignon eventually stuck. Mignon was left behind at the Tuileries after the chaos of the invasion of the Parisian palace during the revolution, but was later reunited with the queen at her imprisoned lodgings within the Tower.

Anne Boleyn was also fond of dogs. There are records of her greyhound, Urian, as well as a little lap dog called Purkoy. His name is thought to be derived from the French word ‘Pourquoi’, meaning ‘why’, so it’s easy to imagine that Purkoy must have been an inquisitive looking little canine. His exact breed isn’t known. Purkoy came to a tragic end, falling out of a high window. It’s said that all the courtiers were afraid to tell Anne, knowing how distraught she would be, and it fell to Henry VIII himself to break the bad news. Anne also had a songbird that was sent to her by Lady Lisle, wife of the Governor of Calais. She found great pleasure in listening to it sing.

Mary, Queen of Scots is another queen who could usually be found in the company of one of her beloved lap dogs. In fact, her Skye terrier, usually recorded as being called Geddon, was found huddled, frightened and blood-spattered, under her skirt after her execution by beheading. I don’t know what happened to poor Geddon after this, but I hope someone gave him a kind home. It’s nice to think that these three doomed queens – each of them executed – found some comfort in their last days through the company of their pets.

Catherine and Zemira

Fortunately, many other queens through history found joy in their animal companions, without the executions. Catherine de’ Medici is said to have possessed a long-tailed monkey from the Indies. Queen Isabella of Spain had a pair of Cuban Amazon parrots, brought back to her by Columbus. Catherine the Great of Russia was extremely attached to her little greyhound called Zemira. The dog slept in the queen’s room in a pink silk-lined cradle. She was also painted with her mistress, since one of Catherine’s favourite activities was walking with her little dog. Zemira’s likeness lives on in various sculptures as well, since the queen’s affection for her meant she became something of a muse for artists seeking the queen’s patronage.

In China, Empress Dowager Cixi apparently owned over a hundred Pekingese dogs and was so fond of them that she supervised their daily baths. Pekingese dogs were quite exclusive, and for a period of time in history, they could only be owned by members of the Chinese Imperial Palace. With their unique lion-like appearance, the little dogs were believed to bring luck and protection against evil spirits.

Imperial ladies holding pekingese dogs

In Egypt, gazelles were common pets through history. Queen Isiemkheb loved her pet gazelle so much that she couldn’t bear to be parted from it after death. Unfortunately, the gazelle’s name is unknown to us today, but it’s custom made sarcophagus still exists, carved with the image of the gazelle. The mummified gazelle was found with Isiemkheb in her tomb, both preserved in such a way and possessing amulets to ensure that they would someday be united again.

And of course, in more modern history, Queen Elizabeth II is famous for her pack of corgis, as well as for being an excellent rider, even venturing out on horseback at ninety years of age. That’s dedication to spending time with animals!

Plenty of writers have pets too, so if you enjoy linking up adorable or eccentric pets to famous faces, I’ve blogged about the pets of writers, too.

 


The Wardrobe Mistress, a novel of one of Marie Antoinette’s wardrobe women who casually spies on the queen during the French Revolution and finds herself torn between her loyalty to the queen and her sympathy for the revolution, publishes on August 15th.

Pre-order links:
Amazon | B&N | IndieBound | BAM | Macmillan

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